Twenty-three people have died of opioid overdoses over the span of 11 days in Erie County, New York, where officials have been fighting an ongoing epidemic, county officials told BuzzFeed News.
There has been an overall increase in the number of overdoses in the last year, but officials said the 23 deaths have prompted them to warn residents about a particularly deadly mix of heroin being sold in the area.
"This may be the deadliest synthetic mix that we have ever seen," Mark Poloncarz, Erie County executive, said during the news conference Tuesday.
Like many other communities across the U.S., Erie County has been experiencing a surge in opiate-related deaths — not just from illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine, but prescription medications, such as the painkiller Fentanyl.
According to the county Medical Examiner's Office, 24 of the 102 deaths in 2014 were connected to heroin use. The overwhelming majority of the deaths, however, were connected to other opiates, including prescription drugs and synthetics.
As a result of the epidemic, county officials launched a task force to address the issue, and in June 2014 began to distribute Narcan kits to police officers to reverse the effects of a possible overdose in the field.
The number of opiate overdose deaths is believed to have more than doubled in 2015, but the total has not been released because of a backlog of toxicology reports, WIVB reported.
"We have been consistently informing the public about the many dangers associated with using opiate-based drugs," Gale Burstein, an Eerie County health commissioner, said in a statement. "The information is still not being comprehended by everyone."
The county has also launched community training sessions to teach people how to recognize overdoses.
"What's on the streets right now is the equivalent of a death sentence for someone who takes it," Poloncarz said.
Officials said the deaths in the last 11 days appear to be connected to heroin being sold in western New York that is laced with Fentanyl.
And although many of the deaths occurred in Buffalo, Poloncarz said many of the people affected were residents of surrounding towns who went into the city to buy the drug.
"Heroin traffickers are not chemists, nor is there such a thing as a 'safe' batch of heroin," James J. Hunt, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a statement.